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Product Merchandiser Focus: Dog and Cat Toys

Posted: Jan. 30, 2013, 4:15 p.m. EST


Promoting Playtime
Whether designing toy displays for the season, special events or for just every-day operations, maximizing their visual appeal will energize sales—and profits.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

Pet playthings are always a hot commodity, but keeping the displays looking their best can be a challenge for retailers.

At Cutter’s Mill with five locations in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania area, Rich Golden, a store manager, said he struggles with keeping the aisles looking fresh and new.

“Especially in those areas where some of our top sellers are,” he said. “Periodically, we will move sections around to keep the toy sections from looking the same month after month.”

Pet toys
Nothing catches a customer’s eye quite like a long wall of fun, colorful toys. Sherri L. Collins/Bowtie Inc. at Kriser’s in Irvine, Calif.
Retailers often struggle with how to optimize their limited display space and create a clean, easy-to-shop assortment, noted Krista Nixon, toy category manager for PetSafe in Knoxville, Tenn, which is transitioning the Premier Pet Products brand name under the PetSafe umbrella.

“With so many options, it can be difficult to organize and the number of choices can be overwhelming to the customer,” Nixon reported.

Stores may also face budgetary challenges that prevent the purchase of high-end fixtures or display materials, said Kristen Smith, brand ambassador for manufacturer and retailer Planet Dog in Westbrook, Maine.

“Retailers do not need expensive gear to create attractive and functional displays,” she said. “Being creative and getting ideas from other retailers and their vendors can offer great solutions to budget or space challenges.”

To get the greatest inventory turn around—and reward from—dog and cat toy sections, stores can try out some of these tips from retailers, manufacturers and design experts.

Be Organized and Tidy
First and foremost, keep the toy section tidy, said Chris Miller, president of Pacific Store Designs in Garden Grove, Calif.

“Customers relate cleanliness to newness and value,” he said. “If you cannot keep your store clean, there’s no point in attempting to apply the remaining merchandising basics.”

Keep items organized by using spinners or other displays available from vendors, Smith said.

“You can also use baskets, buckets, shelving, slat walls and other vessels to display products,” she said.

Merchandise Similar Products Together
Categorize toys by their function, such as treat-dispensing, chewing, plush and squeak, retailers reported.

Dog and cat toys
Engaging toy displays come in a variety of shapes and sizes, as evidenced by these at Petagogy in Pittsburgh. Courtesy of Petagogy
Merchandising by brand, is how Cutter’s Mill’s Golden begins his displays.

“But I also groups ‘like’ items together, even if it means breaking a brand apart,” he said. “For example, we try and merchandise all the tough toys for aggressive chewers together, all the plush toys together and all the stuffing-free toys together.”

Dog and cat toy displays should be eye-catching, colorful and intuitive, noted Smith of Planet Dog.

“A strong display of well-known brands is helpful, as is creating vignettes of similar toys together, such as a bucket of chew toys,” she said. “Housing like products together allows for an easier shopping experience.”

To find out what's hot in dog toys, read Pet Product News International's Sizzling Stock article, Durability, Uniqueness and Interactivity. 

Pull Products Out of Packaging
Most humans are tactile creatures who like to touch and handle merchandise before they buy—so pull those toys out of the packaging, Smith said.

“Retailers should make sure their displays are easy to shop, sturdy and ‘touchable’ so the customer is not afraid to handle the merchandise,” she said. “A beautiful stack of toys may look great, but if it looks like it will come tumbling down if touched, it can be off-putting to a customer who doesn’t want to be disruptive.”

Try-before-you-buy displays are important for the four-legged shoppers, too, said Brian Alt, one of Cutter’s Mill’s manager.

“Don’t put the toys in boxes or bags,” he said. “The dogs like to smell them and feel them.”

Retailers should even give pups their very own play space, noted PetSafe’s Nixon.

“Take products out of the packaging and consider having a designated hands-on toy play area,” she said.

Tout Product Benefits
Product features, like their durability or function, are one thing. However, retailers need to tout toys’ benefits when selling them, Nixon said.

“Consider describing what the toy can do for the customer-pet relationship,” she said. “For example, these toys help with weight management, these toys help with boredom, and these toys help with separation anxiety and destructive chewing.”

Dog-owning customers clamor for tough chew toys while cats parents prefer interactive playthings for their pets, reported Golden.

Merchandising Mantras
Chris Miller, president of Pacific Store Designs in Garden Grove, Calif., has some rules for retailers when it comes to making the most of merchandising tactics. They include:

• Face and front product daily, hourly and continually.

• Spread products to fill the empty space, double-facing products when possible.

• Allow no more than a two-finger width between the top of a product and the bottom of the shelf above.

• Create color blocks and color breaks.

• Position more expensive items to the right.

• Price your merchandise.

• Display heavy items at the bottom, lighter items on top.

• Tier products like a pyramid to allow overhead light to hit each item’s edges.

“Many of our top sellers are those toys that can stand up a little better to aggressive chewers,” he said.

Use Endcaps, Clip Strips
Using out-of-the-aisle merchandising opportunities, such as endcaps and clip strips, can increase dog and cat toy turns—particularly in stores with limited real estate.

“More than 30 percent of a store’s sales can be generated from endcaps that are merchandised correctly,” Miller of Pacific Store Design said. His tips included displaying one or two related SKUs in varying colors rather than a manufacturer’s entire line, stocking them deep and topping the merchandiser with a professional sign.

“And remove one product to show the buying has started,” he said. “This will trigger sales sooner.”

Clip strips boost rings at the register, too, Golden said.

“We have clip strips throughout the store with newer toys that have come in,” he said. “They help to increase impulse purchases.”

Retailers should also take advantage of the sales space around the register, too, Planet Dog’s Smith added.

“Mixing up items near check out is a great way to add on to purchases,” she said. “Small, cute and lower-priced items near the point of purchase make great impulse buys.”

Think Outside the Display
If a retailer can’t afford formal retail shelving or expensive display pieces for cat and dog toy sections, they shouldn’t worry about it, Smith noted.

“Budgetary challenges can be overcome through creative use of housewares,” she said. “Baskets and colorful buckets can be found at modest pricing in home goods stores and can be used to display a variety of merchandise. Many vendors provide free or discounted signage or displays.”

Using non-pet props to create themed displays is another option, Smith added.

“They can help evoke the human-animal bond,” she said. “For instance, position a baseball glove near sport-themed items or a Hibachi grill near a summer-themed display.”

Change Is Good
Displays can become stagnant and boring after a while, so retailers should keep their dog and cat toy displays interesting by changing them frequently, Smith reported.

“It is very helpful to switch up a store’s layout periodically to excite regular customers,” she said. “Varying the placement of key items can help retailers take advantage of seasonal changes and needs, holidays and cultural or sporting events.”

Whether retailers are designing dog and cat toy displays for the season, special promotional events or for just every-day operations, these merchandising tips will go a long way to boosting their bottom line. 

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